From the depths of lush; Goan greenery, she emerges. Her long, silver hair graciously adorns her slender body. Her name translates to initiation. Deeksha greets you with a proud, motherly look that inspires both intimidation and a certain devotional respect. As she initiates you into Saraya, the setting of the semi-jungle embraces you with a homely feeling. Saraya is a hidden community that’s silently blooming alongside the thriving vegetation of the village Sangolda. Only the tips of thatched roofs are visible to the eye. Saraya, with its treehouses and mud guesthouses, is not just an eco-community but a second home to hundreds of people, musicians, artists, permaculturists and environmentalists who have worked or are still working on the expansion of this extradimensional space.
“The idea of starting an eco-community was resting within the depths of my mind and within my heart for a very long time. Saraya‘s land was barren at first. I rented this space out to a few businesses but renting for too long is dangerous in India, you might never get your land back. Once I had the space freed, the concept of Saraya started to gradually unfold. Everything was exploding, I became overwhelmed by the endless possibilities of what this place could become. Saraya sprung out of nothing and the whole concept of the community where music, permaculture and natural, sustainable living merge, is so ME!”
Saraya signifies ‘to flow’ in Sanskrit. It is an endless stream just like the flow of culinary, artistic and philosophical energy within the community. As an architect, Deeksha was particularly interested in creating Saraya with only recycled materials. Her preference also laid in sustaining villagers from the neighbourhood and in supporting local farmers. “Although I had worked as a project manager before, dealing with a big team of labourers can be challenging at times. I remained determined and learned so many new things from them. The villagers taught us how to work with bamboo and build mud houses which is something my family did not know about because we are from a big city.”
It is unimaginable that Saraya has ever been a barren space. It is now bursting with life. The eco complex consists of guest houses, an art gallery with the most exuberant contemporary work, a studio which is open to everyone who wants to drop in and paint or even do yoga. But the most vibrant space is probably the Saraya café that offers the best wood-fired pizza in town. Music resonates throughout the entire place and is part of everyday life in the community. If you listen carefully, you will hear Deeksha’s son’s experimental guitar improvisations coming from his cosy studio.
The heavy rains of western India have provided Mother Earth with the most abundant soil, which brings about the best conditions to practice and learn organic farming. Surrounding the guest houses, is a permaculture garden that attracts teachers and students from all over the world.
One of the main philosophies of Saraya’s team is that everyone is equal “No one here is regarded as bigger if they are educated or smaller if they are not. Everyone is a human and part of the community. We treat each other with compassion and equality.”
The kitchen of Saraya is filled with Hindi music, laughing voices, chopping sounds and drumming pots. Two lady chefs in colourful dresses hex around everyday and conjure the most delicious variety of vegetarian meals for the café. All forms and colours of organic, local fruit and vegetables are daily spread out on the cutting board. The self-taught chefs enchant every customer and guest with their plating and exceptional culinary gifts. In fact, in the neighbourhood of Sangolda, Saraya has become an example to live by. A lot of locals are slowly transitioning to a waste free lifestyle. They grow their own organic food and learn from one another, adopting a more communal way of living.
The woman who started it all was born into an atypical Punjabi family. Dee’s parents would travel around India with their kids and teach them how to live independently. Thanks to her father who was a pilot, Deeksha was exposed to a lot of international influences. As a teenager, she was a recluse and a rebel but also a bookworm who devoured pieces of literature in the solitary corners of her home.
“My father passed away when I was 15 and I started assisting my mother in her business of interior designing. Seeing her become a widow was heartbreaking. I took care of her and made sure that she keeps her enthusiasm instead of becoming the typical Indian widow in a white saree. I became her companion, every morning I laid out colourful clothing and matching jewellery on her bed. I tried to prove to her that life wasn’t over just because her husband had died.”
Deeksha herself got married while studying and running her own business in Mumbai. By the time she had three kids, she abruptly decided to take a break from the cooperate world of the metropolitan city and jumped into the mother-housewife game, as she calls it.
“I really wanted to take time off and invest my energy into my children’s education. I left my flourishing business and followed my at the time husband to Saudi Arabia where I played housewife for three years.”
Overwhelmed by her creative flow, Deeksha was freelancing at the same time as being a full-time mom. She managed to find a balance between baking bread and being a successful interior designer. After giving birth to her fourth child, Dee finally decided to move to Goa, offering her children a green and open-minded upbringing in a place outside of the typically Indian system.
I often had to think of the Goddess Kali when I was in the presence of Deeksha. Powerful and energetic, her hair unbound and free, she lives a marginal unconventional life. To us volunteers, she was the mother figure. The Kalima of Saraya.
“I actually never led a conventional life. I never fitted in. I never really had the need to fit in because I was too busy with my work and my children. I did what I had to do. Even if the whole world would start pointing fingers at me, telling me that what I am doing is wrong, I wouldn’t believe them. I am at that point of my life where I only trust my own inner voice.”
It took Deeksha a while to build her confidence and to connect to her inner being in order to rise up and become the independent and self-loving woman that she is.
“I’ve been through violent relationships, through self-sabotage, alcoholism and at one point of my life I was so disgusted with myself that I had to look at myself in the mirror and ask whether this is the life I want to live. I had an epiphany that showed me that I am in charge of my own life, I said enough is enough. I chose myself and took charge of my life. Saraya was already lingering in my head at the time so I was making little notes and plans about the place, which saved my sanity.”
Through these experiences, Dee learned about the necessity to know what she did not want in her life in order to understand what she actually DOES want. After going through a self-healing process, she rejuvenated and transformed into the amazing being that she is today.
“If you don’t work on yourself and don’t learn how to love yourself, how are you going to love others? I’ve been through literally every phase of a woman’s life. I married, divorced, I was a business woman, travelled half of the world, raised kids, became a widow, dated and partied. I have done everything and now I am just happy to be where I am, living simply. I own a minimal amount of stuff and I don’t need anything, I stopped looking for things.”
Deeksha’s project Saraya was born out of a self-healing process. It is an ever expanding place that welcomes every being with compassion. Every human who visits or volunteers at Saraya shares their ideas and impacts the place in a unique way. A harmonious flow of exchange is happening on a daily basis in Sangolda village, suggesting perhaps that this is how humans are supposed to be living and sharing amongst one another.
If you want to find out more about magical Saraya you can check out their website:
To apply as a volunteer you can have a look at their workaway page:
Happy exploring 🙂